Despite the pick ups of Twitter superstar Logan Morrison and "hilarious 80's reference waiting to happen" Corey Hart, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon has made it clear in statements to MLB.com that he will be sticking with the embattled Justin Smoak as his first baseman to begin the season.
Both Morrison and Hart were acquired by the team as part of an enormous overhaul of the squad's offense this season, spearheaded by the acquisition of all-world second baseman Robinson Cano. But despite both players only providing passable defense at the corner outfield positions -- and with Hart's status as the team's right fielder "day-to-day" once the season starts, according to McLendon -- it appears that the defensive safe haven of first base is off-limits for either for the time being.
Though how long that lasts is anyone's guess, with Smoak failing to live up to expectations for what feels like much of the last decade, even if it's only been the last few years. Entering his age-27 season, the former first round pick of the Texas Rangers has failed to play more than 140 games, have an OPS of more than .750 or generate more than 1 win above replacement during his first three full years in the major leagues. But along with McLendon's support, Smoak's has on his side the fact that neither Morrison or Hart are anywhere near a perfect fit for the position currently or the long-term goals of the team at this point.
Morrison -- who is a year younger than Smoak and with at least one season better than anything Smoak's been able to produce -- has been unable to stay on the field for a full season. And while he's posted consistently (and significantly better) stats than Smoak while staying on the field significantly more than Morrison, Hart's age (nearly 32) makes him not nearly as enticing a long-term solution at first base as the Mariners hope Smoak can someday be.
Their manager has made it clear that both may get opportunities to play the position for spells -- McClendon directly asked and answered that precise question for reporters with this rhetorical gem, "Will other guys play first? Yeah." -- while also stating plainly that "Smoak is my first baseman." Much of this directness is McLendon's general disposition, but it also is likely being done to give comfort and confidence to his first baseman, who has had to suffer through his share of bad teams and bad seasons since being acquired as part of a 2010 trade for Cliff Lee.
In fact, McClendon went so far as to give him the same job security as his best hitter, best pitcher and other top-of-the-line prospects. "The No. 3 hitter, Cano, and the No. 1 starter, Felix," he told reporters when asked who had their positions "locked" before the season started, adding his key prospects after naming his two marquee players, "Our third baseman is Seager. My catcher is Zunino, and my first baseman is Smoak."
The decision isn't entirely new, and is in fact something that McClendon has been saying since the Winter Meetings. But, regardless of the timing, it's an unequivocal show of support that may go along way in restoring Smoak's presumably battered confidence. And if nothing else, it's put Smoak at ease for the time being, as he told reporters, "I had a couple of talks with him over the winter and stuff like that. I knew that if I just came out here and do what I'm capable of doing and work hard, then I had no worries."
After three seasons in the dark it appears that, for Smoak, the future's may finally be so bright he has to wear shades.